Lawmakers critical of NC GEAR program recommendations

crossover_onsceneRALEIGH—State lawmakers say they are disappointed with proposed government efficiency and reform proposals being sent to them by the administration.

The “NC GEAR” project was aimed at finding ways to improve state government, however legislators say these changes are too small. The legislative watchdog committee met Monday afternoon to go over a report on Gov. McCrory’s NC GEAR program. GEAR stands for Government Efficiency And Reform.

In the end lawmakers say they didn’t see enough of either of them.

“I am trying to be respectful, but we need more. We know how tough this is, that’s what we do here, is deal with issues that have no clear low hanging fruit answer. We need the stretch,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican.

The NC GEAR report issued in March makes a couple of dozen recommendations for state government.

But people working on the project say once they began their work last year, they quickly realized a lot of good could come from fixing fundamental problems and not necessarily creating new programs.

“The result is not perhaps the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if we can slice bread sir, we think that is a major accomplishment because yes some of these ideas have been recommended multiple times before. But they have not been implemented which is one of the reasons we are still able to recommend them,” said Joe Coletti, NC GEAR Deputy Director.

Legislators say they don’t agree.

“Legislation that was proposed and passed here required review of all executive branch agencies coming in… yet there are no proposals related specifically to DHHS or Medicaid, which is probably our largest budget issue in the estate,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican.

The program evaluation committee ultimately asked for more information from NC GEAR. Specifics on why certain recommendations were made and why others were set aside.

The committee plans to take up these issues at a future meeting. The NC GEAR recommendations as proposed through the report could save the state $14 million in the first year and potentially $615 million over 10 years.

– Loretta Boniti

Pro-Choice Advocates Ask Gov. McCrory to Keep Promise on Abortion Restrictions

abortionCHARLOTTE—Pro-choice advocates are asking Gov. Pat McCrory to keep his promise on abortion restrictions, as House Bill 465 moves forward.

The bill would make women wait two more days before they can get an abortion.

Supporters say increasing the waiting period from 24 to 72 hours gives women time to get information about the procedure or alternatives. Opponents say the delay is medically unnecessary and an attempt to limit abortions.

The state House passed the bill, and it’s now being considered by the Senate. If it makes it to the governor’s desk, men and women who rallied in Charlotte Monday say Gov. McCrory needs to stand by his word and veto it.

During a 2012 gubernatorial debate, the governor was asked, “If you’re elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?

His answer: “None.”

Those against H.B. 465 say his message couldn’t have been more clear.

“Is that right to make a bold campaign promise during a debate, and just blow it off and break that promise?” said Gerrick Brenner with Progress NC Action.

Pro-choice advocates are hitting the road with a 20-foot billboard with McCrory’s debate answer on it, in the hopes of stopping the momentum of H.B. 465 as it moves forward. Monday’s stop in Charlotte was the first stop on their eight-stop tour around the state.

– Caroline Vandergriff

Gov. McCrory: State Office Buildings in Dire Need of Repair

state_building_issues1RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory says many state office buildings are in dire need of repair, and now, the state insurance commissioner is backing up his claim.

Over the weekend, the Dobbs building, which is where the insurance commissioner’s office is located, flooded.

He says there was significant damage to state records at several agencies.

McCrory says this illustrates his point that serious consideration needs to be given to his proposed “Project Phoenix” which would overhaul state buildings.

“I think it will bring about better work conditions for state employees and more productive work conditions for state employees across this state, maybe even create some new jobs in new construction. But we are pouring a lot of money into maintenance and operations right now, into buildings where you would have to question why you are putting that much money into a building whose value as a building is very low at this point in time,” said Gov. McCrory.

McCrory says he is still working out the details of his plan, but believes it would ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Apple CEO, Gov. McCrory Call Out NC Religious Freedom Proposal

640x320_Legislative_Building_NCCHARLOTTE—A proposed law in the North Carolina legislature is picking up national attention after being called out by Apple CEO Tim Cook for potentially fueling discrimination against LGBT community members.

The bill is short– just two pages.

It says the government can’t force someone to do something against their religious beliefs.

“Well, Jason and I, we were fired by HGTV precisely for our beliefs,” said David Benham.

He and his brother, both outspoken Christians, were fired last year from a reality TV show on the network.

Bill sponsors say cases like the Benham Brothers, or cases against wedding professionals denying service to same-sex couples are a type of discrimination becoming too common.

However, the brothers say they support HGTV’s right to fire them because they believe in the network’s rights to hold their own beliefs.

They say this bill speaks to that.

“It creates a shield, not a sword. It simply empowers business owners like us to prevent government overreach,” said Benham.

Sarah Preston, policy director with the ACLU North Carolina, disagrees.

“The act essentially allows people to ignore the existing laws under the guise of religious freedom,” she said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook called out North Carolina’s proposal in a Washington Post op-ed Sunday. Apple has a data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

Cook says such laws hurt jobs and development.

He was talking about a bill signed in Indiana last week, and companies are backing off investments or speaking out, including the NCAA.

Duke University says they “share the NCAA’s concerns” and they’ll be vigilant on their Final Four trip to Indiana.

Gov. McCrory is already speaking out against the bill, saying on WFAE Monday the it doesn’t make sense, and he doesn’t see the problem the bill is trying to correct.

“People really, I think, understand that this is ultimately about discrimination, and they don’t want to invest in states that will allow discrimination,” said Preston.

“It’s a very limited protection, and it’s not a guarantee. It’s just the ability to defend yourself in court,” said Chris Stone founder of Faith Driven Consumer, a Christian business advocacy group.

Religious and conservative groups like Faith Driven Consumer say claims of discrimination against LGBT groups are overblown.

“If I am the owner of a restaurant and a gay couple comes in, I can’t deny you service, because there’s no religious foundation for that,” he said.

They point out it follows a nearly identical federal law passed in 1993.

One of the bill’s sponsors says the bill was only just filed last week. He anticipates some debate, and probably additions to the bill to make sure it doesn’t promote discrimination against LGBT community members.

– Andrew Sorensen

NC Government Could Be Turned On Its Head With Court Ruling

NC_house_newRALEIGH—A lawsuit pitting three North Carolina governors against General Assembly leaders has clearly become more than a legal exercise about the state Constitution as it heads to the state Supreme Court.

Last week, three trial judges struck down the appointments scheme created by the legislature for three environmental boards in 2014, including one overseeing the cleanup of coal ash pits. Legislative leaders who make a majority of the three boards’ appointments have appealed. The case was brought by Gov. Pat McCrory and two former governors.

Constitutional law experts say the ruling if upheld by justices could require dozens of boards and commissions with appointments picked by legislators to be retooled. It also could cause the Senate to use its rarely-tapped powers to confirm more of a governor’s future appointments.

– Associated Press

Tension Rises as Governor and Senate Leaders Clash Over Issues

tensions_legislature1RALEIGH — It has been Republican versus Republican this week in Raleigh as leaders have clashed over state issues.

That tension was never more apparent than on Wednesday afternoon when a back and forth between the governor and Senate leaders played out in the press and social media.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the nominations committee to meet until the decision is handed down,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, Buncombe Co.

The week kicked off with a court ruling in a lawsuit between the governor and legislators.

The governor won, and senators quickly responded by saying they would stop nominating people to commissions or approving gubernatorial nominations from the governor until an appeal is heard.

“Absolutely, we are going to stop, until we get a ruling from the Supreme Court,” said Apodaca.

The next day the Senate invited the governor’s secretary of commerce to come talk incentives with them, but clearly were not on board with their ideas.

“Or are they just sandbagging us and taking our money?” said Bob Rucho, Mecklenburg Co.

The next day the Senate put forward its ideas for how to spur job growth in North Carolina.

“The bill that we are going to introduce takes a balanced approach to the effort to provide economic development in North Carolina,” said Sen. Berger, president pro-tem.

The plan varies greatly from what the House has already approved, and the governor says he needs, and moments after the unveiling, he let his thoughts on the plan be known.

“I will express my strong disagreement with that action. I think it breaks the bank, it breaks a promise of last year on tax reform,” said Gov. McCrory.

The governor’s comment quickly made the rounds on social media prompting a response from Senate leaders, not pleased with his assessment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said:

“The governor needs to accept responsibility for rapidly draining his jobs incentive fund and directing close to 90 percent of the state’s incentive money to its richest three counties, including his own.”

“I am pretty surprised it is such a public display of how poorly they are getting along,” said David McLennan, Meredith College.

Political observer David McLennan says the gloves are off between the Senate and governor’s office, and this could continue to play out throughout the rest of this long session.

“It does bode poorly for April, May, June and perhaps into July,” said McLennan of Meredith College.

Stuck in the middle is the state House who has to legislate with the Senate and says they want to work with the governor.

But for some, they say the Senate isn’t making that easy.

“We’re trying to govern, we’re trying to work with the governor and with the Senate. It seems like the Senate wants to rule instead of govern,” said Rep. Frank Iler, Brunswick County.

Political observers say it will be important to watch how these relationships evolve as some of the more high profile legislation is considered, including the state budget.

– Loretta Boniti

Gov. McCrory to Unveil 2-Year Budget Proposal


RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCory has laid out his vision for North Carolina’s next two-year spending plan.

On Thursday, the governor released his two year, $21.5 billion budget saying the state is still having to make tough choices on his plan to spend its limited funds.

Gov. McCrory said he broke the different areas of the state budget out of their silos- and looked at state spending as a whole as he put his spending plan proposal together.

He said in the end, there are some areas where he increased spending, and others where he is looking for cuts.

“First we had to focus on efficiency and demand fiscal discipline and accountability. The budget is still extremely tight,” said McCrory.

Budget Highlights:

• No new taxes, although there are some fee increases

• Pay raises for new teachers to bring them to not less than $35,000

• New Medicaid risk reserve fund of $175 million

• New salary exemption fund, to be spent in areas that are needed, instead of across the board raises for state employees

“The new paradigm is directing our monies toward where we are having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is, based upon the market performance,” said McCrory.

Less than 24 hours prior to the budget’s release, the head of the state’s judicial branch made a plea for more funding, saying this branch of government has been do more with less for too long.

“We’ve allocated 16 million dollar to the courts system, which should address many of their cost concerns, many of their funding concerns,” said State budget director Lee Roberts.

Roberts said more money could go to court improvements if bond proposals are approved by lawmakers.

As always, education is the biggest area of the state spending plan which NC Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said could it could see room for improvement.

“We have many more needs other than those expressed in the budget. But this is in the right direction,” said Atkinson.

The next step is for the governor to send the proposal to lawmakers who will now begin working on their versions of a state spending plan proposal.

While state leaders have no actual deadline for completing the budget, traditionally it is completed by July 1, which is the state of the new fiscal year.



Gov. McCrory Offers Public Education Hints in Budget Proposal

mccroryCHARLOTTE–Gov. Pat McCrory says his two-year budget proposal for legislators would give North Carolina public school administrators more flexibility to offer raises to experienced teachers and to pay for textbooks or computers for classrooms.

Multiple media reports said McCrory on Monday offered some details on his spending plan, which is expected to come out later this week. He visited a Charlotte classroom and talked to reporters in Greensboro. He also was slated to travel to the East Carolina University medical school in Greenville.

As expected, the governor said he intended to follow through on raising the floor on schoolteacher salaries to $35,000, up from the current $33,000. Opening pay was $30,800 a year ago.

McCrory said he anticipated nearly $300 million in new funding for K-12 education.


Storm Response Proven to Boost or Hurt Politicians’ Careers

McCroryNORTH CAROLINA — As winter weather and temperatures continue to hit North Carolina, people across the state are turning to elected officials for information and comfort.

From governors to mayors, people have come to count on the updates from top officials during snow, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Storms have proven to be career enders for some politicians and political boosters for others.

“And clearing the snow or responding to a hurricane or a tornado, that is the kind of thing that elected officials are expected to do well. And clearly when they seek re-election, they have to be able to say when the crisis hit, ‘I was there. I did something about it.’ And, ‘I made the victims, the people that were most dramatically impacted by this event, I made them whole again,'” said Joe Stewart, veteran political operative.

In North Carolina, the governor has held multiple statewide updates, as have the local officials across the state.

Gov. McCrory Delivers State of the State Address, Focusing on Jobs, Education, Health

RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory has laid out his vision for North Carolina as it moves forward.

In his biennial State of the State Address, McCrory told a joint session of lawmakers he wants North Carolina to concentrate on jobs, education and health and public safety.

McCrory was invited before a joint session of the legislature, a group he credited with helping to move the state forward during his first two years in office.

“I am proud to report that North Carolina has come back even stronger as I speak right here.  North Carolina is strong, and it is going to be stronger. Its people are resilient and its future is bright,” said McCrory.

McCrory outlined five points he said the state needs to concentrate on: creating jobs, making sure children get the skills they need to succeed, connecting the state through commerce, improving public safety and healthcare and making government more efficient

And as in past years, he lists education and teachers as a top priority. He reemphasized his desire to increase starting teacher pay and said he wants to eliminate free up time for teachers to teach in the classroom.

“We want to eliminate unneeded testing by next year.  That’s our goal,” said McCrory.

McCrory joins many other state leaders in listing jobs as a top priority. He told lawmakers he will be asking for a series of tools to help us beat the competition for jobs coming to North Carolina.

“We need these tools passed in a matter of weeks, not months, because right now we are attempting to recruit new jobs to North Carolina,” said McCrory.

But while the governor was optimistic about jobs,  House Minority Leader Larry Hall gave the Democratic response to his address and said North Carolina families need more help.

“But the fact is, too many families here in North Carolina are still living paycheck to paycheck,” said Hall.

Overall lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that they were pleased with what the governor had to say.  But they say they still need to hear more details for some of his proposals.

“His economic development package…I think we all agree we need to be in the game.  I would like to see exactly what he is proposing. He did not get into a lot of detail, but I think there is a lot of support there to help him in that endeavor,” said Sen. Harry Brown.

“It was good to hear him talk about the importance of education… because we all believe that.  But where are the funds to pay for the materials that our students need,” said Sen. Terry Van Duyn.

They are details that the governor will share as legislators work through this year’s session.

The governor also asked lawmakers to consider two bond initiatives for over $2 billion, one for transportation and to revitalize state facilities.

-Loretta Boniti